Posted by: Rob | July 4, 2008


SETI – The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.  Ever heard of it?  Anyone who is a science or sci-fi buff has heard of this effort.  I remember a mention of SETI in the 1997 film “Contact” starring Jodie Foster.  Shortly after that film came out, I heard about a project hosted by the University of California at Berkeley called “SETI@home“.

The SETI@home project is an ambitious initiative to harness the vast computing power of individual PC’s across the globe to analyze the massive amounts of data gathered by radio telescopes at the Arecibo Observatory.

The radio telescopes at Arecibo are actively “listening” to signals from outer space.  As you might imagine, recording of these signals represents the accumulation of a significant amount of data.  Data that must be analyzed to determine if there are messages from another world, another civilization, another species that might (or might not) be intended for humanity.  The data analysis essentially filters out the background noises of space and looks for anything anomalous, or repetitive or otherwise indicative of an intentional communication.

I was intrigued by the project and since I tended to leave our desktop PC powered up all of the time, I figured that its idle time could be put to good use and the SETI@home software was just as good a screen saver as anything.  So I signed up and for a brief time was an active contributor to the project.

I don’t recall how many data units my PC managed to process before my participation came to an end.  Circutmstances changed.  Our internet connection was dial-up and it became unstable.  The PC was moved around the house and became less used to the point that it was typically shut off.  I also began to wonder, in the face of increasing electricity rates, what the contribution of an always on PC was to my monthly electricity bill.  In essence, it was economics that killed my participation in SETI@home.

But now, a recent article on Slashdot indicates that the US government is planning budget cuts which will reduce the funding to the Arecibo Observatory.  The Planetary Society is advocating a letter writing campaign to encourage Congress to relent on planned budget cuts to Arecibo.  So, if you are a US citizen and you have any interest in space, science, astronomy or the SETI@home project, you can help by simply sending a letter to Congress.



  1. I have a good idea. Let’s just cut funding for the war. They’re trying to cut Medicare reimbursement 10% while everybody’s expenses are going up, and now this. Idiots.

    I was on SETI@home for a while. I think the computer it was on died, and I didn’t put it on the replacement. Now I have the computer programmed to sleep during down times, so they wouldn’t get much out of me.

  2. I’m not allowed to write any more letters to congress.

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